Book Review: Dracula Cha Cha Cha (Reprint Edition) / Author: Kim Newman / Publisher: Titan Books / Release Date: October 26th
First published in the '90s, Kim Newman's Anno Dracula novels can be credited with paving the way for such popular contemporary genres as steampunk and the mash-up – but let's not hold that against them. Rather than being defeated by Van Helsing and co as in Bram Stoker's book, in this alternative history the Prince of Darkness triumphs against his enemies and marries Queen Victoria, ushering in a new age, with old vampires coming out of the coffin and new vampires proliferating in every walk of life. It's a cracking idea, and Newman handles it with the same combination of wit and erudition that has made him such a well-loved movie pundit.
Dracula Cha Cha Cha, the third in the series and the last of the original group (another is coming very soon), takes place in Rome in 1959. Dracula (who has gone through various ups and down since his days with Her Majesty) is due to tie the knot with a Moldavian princess, with the who's-who of the vampire world in town for the occasion. Unfortunately, it looks like not all of them will make to the wedding, because a masked crusader is taking the opportunity to go around slaying vampire elders. Kate Reed, crusading journalist and the most mousey, unassuming bloodsucker you could hope to meet, sets out timorously to investigate.
One of the features of the Anno Dracula novels in the way in which they cheerfully plunder other films and books for characters and ideas. This one makes free with Fellini's La Dolce Vita (including the famous Trevi fountain scene, which here ends in a mess of undead grue) and Dario Argento's Three Mothers mythology. The fictional characters who get roped in include versions of James Bond and Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley, and real-life personages such as Orson Welles and Fritz Lang also make cameo appearances.
Identifying these references is good trainspotting fun, but as a way of writing a novel it has its drawbacks. All of the Anno Dracula books suffer from a seepage of momentum as the story is bent out of shape to accommodate the homages that Newman is determined to cram in, and consequently you end up enjoying them for the parts rather than the whole. This is especially so with Dracula Cha Cha Cha, whose plot is rather slight in comparison to the cleverness that's lumped upon it. That said, the period setting is very chic and you get to see a 500-year-old vampire chick riding a Vespa. Rounding out this volume is a juicy new novella, Aquarius, set in 1968, which tips its hat to Antonioni's Blow-Up and a number of cop shows. It zips along nicely, raising hopes for the long-awaited fourth book in the series.